Every once in a while a TV show comes along that tugs at the heart-strings and invites you into a family whose hearts are filled with love for each other and love for life. Is it any wonder that actor Mason Cook felt like he won the lottery when he was cast on the show as Ray DiMeo? Fans of the show have already discovered that the joy portrayed on screen is infectious, and it is delightful to learn that it is just as infectious for those working on the show as well. In an exclusive interview, Mason Cook shares his happiness with scoring the role of a lifetime as Ray on SPEECHLESS and talks about how being a young actor there is nothing more rewarding than getting a chance to shine in such a remarkable television series.
What initially appealed to you about the role of Ray DiMeo and working on ABC’s SPEECHLESS?
MASON: I have been acting since I was 8 years old, so I have been on the crazy train called “pilot season” several times. I have shot pilots in the past that I absolutely loved and was pretty sure would get picked up to series, but they didn’t for whatever reason. It is so much harder than people realize, so I have learned to try not to get too attached when shooting pilots because disappointment happens more often than celebration with them. All that said, when SPEECHLESS came along, I immediately forgot all that and became obsessed. The story was different than anything on TV — it was hilarious, it had heart, and over-all the writing was, and still is, just so freaking good. There was one slight problem though – Ray was 10 years old in the script and I was 15. The casting director convinced the producers to see me anyway and, long story short, they made some changes to the family breakdown and Ray was re-written to fit me.
How would you describe who Ray is?
MASON: I love playing Ray DiMeo. Ray would probably describe himself as “wise beyond his years.” He would also consider himself to the “adult” in his family. The DiMeo’s tends to be surrounded by a lot of chaos, usually because they are masters at making terrible choices, so Ray is constantly struggling to bring some calm to the storm. Since this is pretty much an unreachable goal, it creates a lot of anxiety for him. He puts a lot of pressure on himself to be perfect, which I have learned is pretty typical with siblings of kids with disabilities.
What do you most admire and/or like about him?
MASON: On the surface Ray is awkward, has no game when it comes to girls, gets picked on, and tries too hard. Most of his awkward situations are a result of his attempts to make things better for his family. Ray never gives up and his heart is always in the right place and that is very admirable.
What is it like working alongside such a talented ensemble on SPEECHLESS?
MASON: We hit the jackpot with the SPEECHLESS cast. Literally we clicked on Day One and had instant chemistry. Every single member of our cast is stellar in their role. The writing and tone of our show is very tricky and it takes a certain kind of actor to be able to pull that off. We spent a lot of time figuring out tone and delivery in the pilot and throughout Season One, so now in Season Two the writers are having a blast developing each of our characters even more.
Who would you like to work more with on the show?
MASON: One of my absolute favorite things about our show is how the writers mix and match storyline partners week to week. Because of that, we all get to work with each other. You would never imagine Ray sharing a storyline with his brother JJ’s aide, but we have and it works! We get a lot of positive feedback from our viewers about how the writers mix it up.
Any favorite scenes that you got to work on so far either last season or this season?
MASON: That is a tough question because there are a bunch! On the heartfelt side there is something super special about my father-son scenes with John Ross Bowie. We had a great one in the pilot where we had a deep conversation in our parked car while watching cars that were flying down a hill too fast bottom out on a dip in the road. I also love my ‘bro-ments’ with Micah Fowler (JJ). His character can be Ray’s worst nightmare, but deep down there is a bond and I love when we hit on that. We have one in the episode we are shooting this week. On the comedy side, hands- down Kyla Kenedy (Dylan) and I have way too much fun in our storylines. We have an amazing storyline in our Halloween episode this season that was a blast to shoot.
Then what is your favorite part about working on the show?
MASON: My favorite part of working on the show is feeling like I am part of something bigger than just a TV show. We have been recognized several times for bringing representation for the disabled community to TV in a funny, yet accurate, and entertaining way. We have changed people’s perceptions of what life is like when you have a family member with a disability. Usually those stories are sad, depressing and tear-jerkers. You will have tears when you watch SPEECHLESS, but they will be tears from laughing so hard. How much better your performance is when you are acting opposite talented and dedicated actors like we have on our show. Acting is about give and take and, as actors, we aren’t always working opposite people who think that way. Even if the camera is not on you, you owe it to your scene partner to give them 100% on every take.
What is the biggest challenge working on SPEECHLESS?
MASON: The biggest challenge is probably juggling school and work. I have not been in regular school since 4th grade because of acting, so schooling on set is not new to me, but I am in my junior year of high school now and there is a lot of work. I am also in a ton of scenes in the show, so there’s a lot of back and forth to the classroom. I work Monday through Friday on the show and then on Saturdays I have to go to a 4.5 hour Physics lab, so I don’t have a lot of free time.
What has been the biggest surprise working on SPEECHLESS?
MASON: Our show is not about disability or only for people with disabilities. It is a family comedy along the lines of ROSEANNE or MODERN FAMILY – it just has more layers to it! I have been pleasantly surprised to hear from fans who don’t have a direct connection to disability that love our show. They are being entertained and, as an added bonus, also now see the disabled community differently. That was a relief for me because you could easily see how viewers might think our show is not relatable to them.
What has surprised you most about your career to date?
MASON: How fortunate I have been in such a short amount of time. This is a tough business and to have done the number of projects, with the such an impressive group of people, that I have in the past 9 years is mind-blowing. I had a Johnny Depp/Captain Jack Sparrow birthday cake for my 6th birthday back in Oklahoma City and then 5 years later I was starring in “The Lone Ranger” with him! That is nuts. I have worked with Oscar winning directors, Oscar and Emmy nominees and a million other talented people worthy of those awards. I am very grateful. I have done a variety of things! I love when I get a “first,” like with SPEECHLESS. It is my first network TV series. I was a series regular on LEGENDS on TNT, but that was really Sean Bean’s project and I was definitely “the kid of.” With our show, we are the definition of an ensemble show. I made a decision, and, yes it was me who made it, pretty early on that I was not a “Disney kid.” Once you rule that out as a kid actor, you lose a lot of your opportunity for a lead role. Obviously, I was super excited when “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World” came along and I got play a lead, but for me it is about the role and not the size of the role. Some of the most memorable performances have come from cameo appearances in huge projects.
Then what are the perks of where you are in your career right now?
MASON: Ha ha. I have done a lot and been lucky enough to work relatively non-stop, but I am still a work in progress. The perks are reserved for a select few like Robert Downey, Jr. and Reese Witherspoon. I will say, after doing this for 9 years, I have developed very good relationships with casting directors, producers and directors. I feel confident that if there is a role I am right for, I will definitely be given the chance to read for it. I am not being offered roles yet, but that’s ok – I like to earn it and trust in my ability to get me the role.
If there were one role you would like to revisit, which would it be and why?
MASON: I have learned that every project is a stepping stone to the next one and equally important in the big picture. Because of that I don’t think I would want to revisit a role from the past. They all served me well and I put everything I had into them at the time. When I am in the process of filming a role, I do dig deeply to get into character. With my comedic roles, it is more about timing in the moment, except with Ray who requires a deeper understanding, so it is easier to turn it off when you are done at work. But, with more intense roles, like when I was a kidnap victim on CRIMINAL MINDS or an emotionally disturbed kid in “If There Be Thorns,” an emotional scene can definitely stick with you and be harder to shake off.
Has there been any great advice you have gotten? What advice would you offer to other upcoming and aspiring actors?
MASON: I was given amazing advice when I was very young and that was to remember, “acting is a marathon, not a sprint.” That means you have to be in this for the long haul and know that what is meant to be will be. I have had roles that I didn’t get or pilots not get picked up and been super disappointed, but nine times out of ten something better was waiting around the corner for me. We are still filming the second season of SPEECHLESS, and we don’t wrap that until February 2018, so for now 100% of my time and attention is on the show. Being on a series really limits availability for other projects, but it’s a good problem to have! I have been reading some movie scripts and, hopefully, once we wrap this season, I will be able to do one!
To see more of the hilarious and heart-warming DiMeo family adventures, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of SPEECHLESS on Wednesday nights at 8:00 p.m. on ABC. You can also keep up with Mason and his career on Twitter @MasonCook and keep up with SPEECHLESS sneak peeks and exclusives on Twitter @Speechless_ABC If you have not already fallen under its spell, your are invited to fall in love with SPEECHLESS.
Great brother bonding scene with Ray and JJ from Season 1: